When We Teach Israel, There’s Often a Gap

For the past couple of years, we’ve been thinking a lot at Torah Aura about Israel curriculum. In a number of our discussions and brainstorming sessions, we’ve come up against something that we like to call The Gap.

The Gap doesn’t sell jeans. (That’s a different Gap.) Our Gap is about how American Jews think about Israel.

American Jews seem to have only one of two opinions about Israel—and the gap makes designing material on Israel and teaching Israel difficult.

Opinion One (the Extreme Zionist Position) is that Israel is completely right, the Palestinians are unreasonable, and every Jew and the full force of America should relentlessly support the Jewish State.

The Other Opinion (The There is more than Enough Blame to Go Around Position) is that Israel exacerbates the possibilities for peace as badly or almost as badly as the Palestinians.

The problem has been that people who believe that they need to support Opinion One have been writing curriculum and teaching Israel to students whose families mainly hold Opinion Two.

The upshot of this gap is that we often teach a “perfect” Israel (that one must love) to students who later (a) watch the news, or (b) talk to other kids and wind up saying, “In Hebrew School I was lied to about Israel.”

To balance on this double-edged sword an Israel curriculum has to do two things. First it has to model love for Israel through the way it covers the subject. This is not a social studies text; it is a family history. Second, one must admit that Israel struggles with problems.

One need not solve the unsolvable. But students need to know that Israel struggles with the Palestinians, with poverty, with water shortages and the like. Admitting problems doesn’t sever connections.

We all have family problems and yet we remain family. Our relationship with Israel needs to be the same.

American Jewry’s Israel once was rooted in the myth of the halutz (pioneer) who through hard work and ingenuity turned swamps into farm land and made the desert bloom. Those were and are true stories. But today, it is also the story of a leading Israeli Arab soccer team who needed funding from the Emirate in order to have a stadium in which to play. It is also the story of an eighteen year old soldier who persons a check-point always afraid that the next person in line could be a suicide bomber. And it is also the story of the people in line whose anger builds as they wait hours to get from their home to their fields that are on the opposite side of the protection barrier.

Israeli politics are complicated and with fifth and sixth graders we need not unpack in great detail the complexities, but we must leave behind the truth that there are glorious things in Israel—and problems, too. Classically, the Israel curriculum was some kind of mock trip to Israel, visiting Her city by city, region by region. We need to make our Israeli travel simulation more realistic, doing just what real tourists to, seeing the wonder but also being exposed to the difficulties. If we do this, we present a durable Israel that can be both a personal connection and hold up to CNN realities, too.
Joel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel GrishaverJoel Grishaver

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